Here Are Reasons Why It Is Best To Avoid Dark Tourism


By Victoria Simpson on July 18 2020 in Travel

Woman exploring the ruins of an abandoned house in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Image credit: Croydon Fernandes/
Woman exploring the ruins of an abandoned house in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Image credit: Croydon Fernandes/
  • According to Oxford Languages, so-called “dark tourism” is tourism that involves visiting places that are identified with death and suffering.
  • You can visit the 911 memorial in New York City, but don’t take any flashy selfies or you risk coming across as disrespectful.
  • Museums like the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum tell the story of the Nazi’s destruction but are not for the faint of heart.
  • Between 40,000 to 50,000 Tutsis were killed in an act of genocide in April of 1994 in Rwanda, and you can now visit the gory museum telling the tale.

According to Oxford Languages, so-called “dark tourism” is tourism that involves visiting places that are identified with death and suffering. 

In all seriousness, dark tourism is something that does draw a crowd and can be pretty interesting to witness. So many people are intrigued with the idea that there is now a Netflix series focused entirely on visiting places that can truly turn your stomach a few more notches towards nauseous, and give you the creeps along the way. 

“Dark Tourist” is hosted by David Farrier, a journalist from New Zealand. He leads viewers through places like the catacombs of Europe, tags along with Pablo Escobar’s former enforcer in Colombia, participates in a detailed World War II reenactment with a bunch of people who do not really like him, attends a bloody voodoo festival in South Africa where people go into trances and can’t stop stabbing themselves, and gets chummy with Charles Manson’s pen pal. And that’s just season one. 

It all sounds fascinating. Should you really participate in this stuff any further than your own couch, however? Here are 5 reasons you may want to avoid any and all dark tourism. 

You May Be Exposed To Radiation

Photographer in Chernobyl – Ukraine. Image credit: James Kerwin/

In Dark Tourist, David Farrier experiences the shock of traveling to Fukushima, Japan where a tour guide leads his small group on a bus ride into areas that experienced a triple nuclear meltdown in March 2011. About 20,000 people died in Japan when a massive earthquake set off a tsunami. When the wave crashed onshore, it caused three nuclear reactors at Daiichi to melt down as the cooling systems went caput. 

Farrier and his group had Geiger counters in hand on their tour.  The machines kept reading higher and higher levels of radiation as they traveled further in. The levels are much higher then they’d been told they would witness. 

Do you really want to expose yourself to this mess? Radiation can cure cancer but excessive exposure to it can also cause it. 

Curious for more? You can also travel to Cherobyl. Visitors can take in the sights at the location of the world’s worst nuclear disaster. People here died when a reactor exploded and pumped radioactive contamination out over a vast region that was evacuated permanently in 1986. The accident exposed millions of people to dangerous levels of radiation, and it remains to be seen exactly how many people will die in connection with their exposure. 

You Could Come Across As Disrespectful

9/11 Memorial park, aerial view in Manhattan New York City. Image credit: Nick Starichenko/

A lot of dark tourists have gotten flack for visiting somber sites and not seeming serious enough about the whole ordeal. 

A tip: if you visit someplace like the 911 Memorial in New York City, do not turn around and smile while snapping a quick pic. If you do, you risk building a reputation of disrespectful. The 911 memorial was built to remember the thousands of people who died when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. These ill-minded people flew planes into the buildings causing them to collapse on September 11, 2001. The horrible tragedy is heavy in many peoples’ hearts today. If you do visit the memorial, be quiet, take it in, and leave without fanfare. You are there to learn something new, not grab your best selfie. 

You Might Have Nightmares

All the gore and nastiness available to see at dark tourist sites could also very well make it hard for you to sleep at night. It is true that by visiting serious locations in the world with a sad history attached to them, that you can educate yourself about the vast evils of the world, and arm yourself with knowledge. But do you need to enter the very walls of torture go to such lengths?

Dark tourists visit places like the Murambi Technical School in Rwanda. People can now visit this site that has been transformed into a gory museum. It  educates visitors on the massacre of the Tutsi people.  Between 40,000 to 50,000 Tutsis were killed in an act of genocide in April of 1994 in Rwanda. The museum spares no details. As one online report describes, visitors can see just about everything. 

“In one room, piles of blood-stained clothes and shoes, including many pairs of children’s shoes, are stacked in bookcases…We walk to the row of rooms in the back of the school. A sickly sweet smell hits you as you walk in. Lying on white wooden racks are bodies. Actual bodies, covered in lime. These people died twenty years ago, and some still have tufts of hair. Maquiere says that they wanted to preserve bodies found in the mass graves that were not decomposed. The bodies still have clothes on, some wear rosaries around their necks.”

Feeling comfortable? It could be enough to make your head spin. 

You May Lose Your Faith In Humanity

Auschwitz prisoners shoes, Poland. Image credit: Romanova Elizaveta/

Visiting the World War II former Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz could make you lose hope. This is a very important space for keeping history alive. It educates future generations about the horrors of war, and what humanity is capable of doing. You need to be ready to visit a place like this, however, and it is not for the faint of spirit. 

The Auschwitz Memorial and Museum shows the site where Polish people and Jews were shipped to live as slave laborers or to be gassed in gas chambers during World War II. Auschwitz was the Nazi’s largest center used for destroying (killing) the Jewish population living in European countries that were occupied by or allied to the Third Reich. Hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war were brought here on trains as the traditional prisons filled up in Poland and elsewhere. The “prisoners” were anyone that the Nazis disapproved of. This included men, women, children, the elderly, and infirmed. 

Prisoners here lived in barracks. Some “lucky” ones were chosen to perform slave labour and lived to be released when Germany lost the war. Others starved to death, died of untreated diseases, and were eliminated in gas chambers on site where thousands of innocent people were led to their death simply for existing. The Nazis wanted the Aryan races to dominate and if you did not fit their definition, they attempted, and often succeeded, in killing you. 

Seeing all this history in person could definitely make you lose your faith in humanity. 

You Might Encounter More Than You Bargained For

Skulls at the memorial of the Khmer Rouge killing fields of Choeung Ek in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Image credit: RPBaiao/

If you visit a dark tourism destination like the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, you could also see more than you may like. Between 1975 and 1978, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime killed about 17,000 men, women, and children in an otherwise peaceful orchard about 10 miles southwest fo Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Today, the site is an educational attraction with skulls of the dead on display in cases. You can also learn exactly how they died, recounted in detail by guides and electronic audio tours. 

Are these places you want to visit? Places that are destinations for dark tourism can be educational and eye-opening. These sites are essential for keeping history alive, and helping the world to prevent repeating it. If you are not strong of stomach and a bit insensitive however, you may be best to avoid the sites themselves. It could be that learning about them online, or through other sources that are not so drastic, is the best way to go.  


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